Sex, Leins & Videotape #146. Tom Leins reviews Holy Motors, Taken 2 and Wrong Turn 5

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Art-house quirkiness, Liam Neeson on the rampage and the horror franchise that will not die – Tom Leins reviews this week’s biggest DVD releases.

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Holy Motors (Artificial Eye) tells the story – or rather stories – of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) who travels around Paris in chauffeur-driven limousine, embarking on a series of nine ‘appointments’, each of which sees him transform himself into a new character. Picked up in the morning by his driver Celine (Edith Scob, Eyes Without a Face), Oscar begins the day as a captain of industry before masquerading as a crippled gypsy woman begging for spare change on a bridge over the Seine. Subsequent guises see Oscar inhabit a variety of roles – not least a gibberish-spouting tramp who intrudes on a fashion shoot with grisly consequences.

As the winner of the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes Film Festival 2012, Holy Motors’ reputation inevitably precedes it, but no amount of awards can adequately prepare you for quite how weird it is! In the 13 years since making the controversial Pola X (1999) French auteur Leos Carax found himself bafflingly out of work, helming just one short film (Merde) which formed part of the little-seen anthology piece Tokyo! (alongside shorts from Michel Gondry and Bong Joon-ho). It was Carax’s Godzilla-referencing tale about a sewer-dwelling tramp-monster (Lavant) that inspired him to make Holy Motors, with the same character reappearing here in a similar storyline.

The remainder of the film is similarly surreal, and not even roles for household names like Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes help to smooth down the rough edges. Part enigmatic crime caper, part twisted romance, Holy Motors is a ragged, jumble-sale of a movie, dripping with filmic freakiness. Nevertheless, Carax’s filmmaking verve shines through throughout, and he delivers a succession of memorably off-kilter scenarios. All in all, a chaotic, distinctive slab of art-house craziness.

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Taken 2 (20th Century Fox) sees Liam Neeson reprise his role as ex-CIA hard-man Bryan Mills, whose ‘particular set of skills’ allowed him to save his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, Lost) from a posse of Albanian kidnappers in Paris back in 2008. Four years on, Murad (Rade Serbedzija, In The Land of Blood and Honey), the father of one of Bryan’s numerous victims vows to enact bloody revenge on the perpetrator, and concocts a plan to capture Bryan and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men) whilst they are on holiday in Istanbul. Suffice to say, they are messing with the wrong man, and with a little bit of help from Kim, Bryan escapes from his captors and delves into his brutal bag of tricks to take out the Albanians one by one.

Critically panned upon its cinema release, but subsequently embraced by an appreciative DVD audience, the original Taken was a genuine sleeper hit, going on to become one of the most-rented DVD titles in recent memory. Not only did the film rejuvenate Neeson’s career – turning him into an improbable middle-aged action hero (with added gravitas!) – it also proved that a low-key movie could withstand a critical kicking and take on a life of its own. Directed by Luc Besson’s right-hand man – the explosively named Oivier Megaton – Taken 2 feels like a weak re-tread of its predecessor, with a lazy plot that could have been cobbled together using offcuts from any of the prolific Besson’s countless latter-day action screenplays. Much like previous Megaton fodder Transporter 3 and Colombiana, Taken 2 looks the part, put there is a gaping hole where its heart should be. It is sure to do well on DVD, but it can’t compete with the original on any level. Extremely disappointing.

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Just when you thought that it was safe to go back to the straight-to-DVD aisle, Wrong Turn 5 (20th Century Fox) rears its ugly head. After stepping back in time for last year’s grim prequel (Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings), director Declan O‘Brien drags the saga kicking and screaming back into the present day for this ridiculous fifth outing. Against the backdrop of the ‘Mountain Man Festival’ on Halloween, a posse of generic college kids get more than they bargained for when they cross paths with inbred series stalwarts Three-Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye. Unfortunately for the youngsters, the hillbilly trio still haven’t had their fill of human flesh…

Not merely content to rip itself off, Wrong Turn 5 also attempts to rip off Assault on Precinct 13 – albeit in a spectacularly cack-handed manner. Horror veteran Doug Bradley (AKA Pinhead from the Hellraiser saga) offers a welcome distraction as the malevolent Maynard, who is in league with the demented cannibals, but everything else about Wrong Turn 5 is gorily forgettable. The series’ longevity suggests that these sub-standard knock-offs are still capable of tapping into an appreciative audience, but these films are dragging the horror genre back to the dark ages. You want cheap and nasty? You got it.